Who’s Got the “Reel” Power? The Problem of Female Antagonisms in Blaxploitation Cinema
Melissa DeAnn Seifert
Abstract: Between 1973 and 1975, films starring Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson such as Cleopatra Jones (Jack Starrett, 1973), Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973) and Foxy Brown (Hill, 1974) introduced leading black women into the predominantly male blaxploitation scene as aggressive action heroines. Within the cinematic spaces of blaxploitation films which featured women as active agents, a racial and sexual divide exists. These films positioned women either inside or outside of gender tolerability by utilising binary constructions of identity based on race, sex and elementary constructions of good and evil, black and white, straight and gay, and feminine and butch. Popular representations of lesbianism and sisterhood within blaxploitation cinema reflect a dominant social view of American lesbianism as white while straight women are consistently represented as black. However, these spaces also constricted black and white female identities by limiting sexuality and morality to racial boundaries. This article seeks to question the unique solitude of these female heroines and interrogate a patriarchal cinematic world where sisterhood is often prohibited and lesbianism demonised.